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FYI (article): The future of crime-fighting is family tree forensics

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From Wired https://www.wired.com/story/the-future-of-crime-fighting-is-family-tree-forensics/?linkId=61773240

“IN APRIL, A citizen scientist named Barbara Rae-Venter used a little-known genealogy website called GEDMatch to help investigators find a man they’d been looking for for nearly 40 years: The Golden State Killer. In the months since, law enforcement agencies across the country have flocked to the technique, arresting a flurry of more than 20 people tied to some of the most notorious cold cases of the last five decades. Far from being a forensic anomaly, genetic genealogy is quickly on its way to becoming a routine police procedure. At least one company has begun offering a full-service genetic genealogy shop to law enforcement clients. And Rae-Venter’s skills are in such high demand that she’s started teaching her secrets to some of the biggest police forces in the US, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Identifying individuals from their distant genetic relatives, a technique called long-range familial searching, is a potent alternative to the types of DNA searches commonly available to cops. Those are typically limited to forensic databases, which can only identify close kin—a sibling, parent, or child—and are highly regulated. No court order is required to mine GEDMatch’s open source trove of potential leads, which, unlike forensic databases, contains genetic bits of code that can be tied to health data and other personally identifiable information.

Currently, there aren’t any laws that regulate how law enforcement employs long-range familial searching, which hobbyists and do-gooders have turned to for years to find the biological families of adoptees. But some legal experts argue its use in criminal cases raises grave privacy concerns. They expect to see a legal challenge at some point, though probably not in the next year. In the meantime, GEDMatch is becoming even more powerful, as it grows by nearly a thousand new uploads every day.

GENETIC GENEALOGY ALONE isn’t enough to make an arrest. Investigators have to do confirmatory DNA testing, by retrieving bits of genetic material from the suspect, usually pulled from his or her trash, and comparing them to DNA found at the crime scene. But legal scholars worry that the widespread adoption of long-range familial searches will expose vast numbers of innocent people to genetic surveillance.

GEDMatch, which currently houses 1.2 million profiles from folks who’ve had their DNA analyzed at places like 23andMe and Ancestry, can now be used to identify at least 60 percent of all Americans with European Ancestry, regardless of whether they themselves have ever been tested. That’s according to two recent analyses by genetics researchers, who expect databases like GEDMatch to grow so big in the next few years that it will be possible to find anyone from just their DNA, even if they haven’t voluntarily put it in the public domain.

“You can’t claw back the profile of your third cousin once removed who you don’t even know exists,” says Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University Law School and an expert on familial DNA searches. If someone gets ensnared in a long-range familial search, she says, they’re going to have very little legal recourse. “These searches throw into sharp relief how current privacy protections under the 4th Amendment are insufficient to contend with what technologies are available to police in 2018.”

There’s not a lot of data yet on whether the general public believes police should have access to non-criminal genetic databases. But initial surveys suggest that the majority of Americans are most supportive of such searches when they’re used to go after violent offenders. Approval drops from 80 percent to less than 40 percent for pursuing people who’ve committed nonviolent crimes.”

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2 minutes ago, Arctic Mama said:

And this is why I’ll never submit to those suckers voluntarily.  Hard pass.

Me, too, but they're saying it doesn't matter because there is already enough out there to get close to identifying you if they get your DNA (say, from your trash) to match up with the database of a 2nd cousin who did submit it. (I know my mom did one, so it almost doesn't even matter if I do it!)

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Honestly,  this falls under "not a reasonable expectation of privacy." The basic principle of standing for search and seizure applies here. If I stash dope in my sister's house, I have no standing to prevent police from searching it and seizing it, or to suppress it as evidence against me even if they do so without my sister's consent and in violation of her rights.

Likewise, I have no standing to prevent police from checking crime scene DNA against a database my second cousin once removed consented to store her DNA and share information about. You simply have no rights over someone else's information. To change that would require a fundamental overhaul in our most basic cultural notions of private property and personal autonomy.

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I have my DNA up, and it has really helped my genealogy research.  If some 3rd cousin once removed or something is a seral killer, I'd be happy if my dna helps get them arrested.

 

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Yeah, I have a serious problem with this.  The level of surveillance that is possible now is extremely deep and invasive, and it's all stuff that is either not considered private or which people are willingly giving over.  Any group that wanted to combine this types of information would have an unprecedented amount of information and control over groups and processes.  

People see a lot of these technologies as personally empowering, but realistically, and materially, they aren't for individuals.  They radically empower those who can crunch the numbers or control the infrastructure though.

It's quite interesting that this is happening at a time when many people think more individualistically than anyone or any culture ever really has before.

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10 hours ago, scoutingmom said:

I have my DNA up, and it has really helped my genealogy research.  If some 3rd cousin once removed or something is a seral killer, I'd be happy if my dna helps get them arrested.

 

Exactly.  I don't understand the objection.  Unless you have a desire to protect a criminal who is related to you.

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23 minutes ago, Scarlett said:

Exactly.  I don't understand the objection.  Unless you have a desire to protect a criminal who is related to you.

I jealously guard my right against unlawful search and seizure, and access to genetic information and DNA that can be searched and linked and used in an investigation WITHOUT my consent or an overriding warrant is something I’m entirely against, even if I am not the target.

Information is power, and this sort of thing doesn’t empower the people it is gleaned from, it exposes them to increased legal scrutiny and risk.  They are being searched against every time a DNA sample is entered into this system for query.  Nope.  Existing laws are now adequate to protect against this sort of medical/genetic data being abused or misused.

 

Edited by Arctic Mama
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4 hours ago, Arctic Mama said:

I jealously guard my right against unlawful search and seizure, and access to genetic information and DNA that can be searched and linked and used in an investigation WITHOUT my consent or an overriding warrant is something I’m entirely against, even if I am not the target.

Information is power, and this sort of thing doesn’t empower the people it is gleaned from, it exposes them to increased legal scrutiny and risk.  They are being searched against every time a DNA sample is entered into this system for query.  Nope.  Existing laws are now adequate to protect against this sort of medical/genetic data being abused or misused.

 

Well, obviously we feel very differently about this issue. Shrug.  

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6 hours ago, Scarlett said:

Exactly.  I don't understand the objection.  Unless you have a desire to protect a criminal who is related to you.

Or if you want to avoid being denied health insurance because Great Aunt Bertha had diabetes. 

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11 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

Or if you want to avoid being denied health insurance because Great Aunt Bertha had diabetes. 

Exactly. Too risky on too many levels and in too many ways. 

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Genetics and true crime are both interests of mine, so I've been reading a lot about this over the past several months. I am totally in favor of it. It's amazing that these decades-old cold cases are being solved, and murderers who thought they were scot-free are finally getting the punishment they deserve. Hopefully, this technology means that crimes with DNA evidence will be solved much more quickly from here on out, so there are fewer predators roaming around.

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27 minutes ago, KungFuPanda said:

Or if you want to avoid being denied health insurance because Great Aunt Bertha had diabetes. 

We just need to make health coverage universal.

Personally I am happy if there is a tool that will catch folks like serial killers and rapists sooner. I'd be really upset if someone raped and killed my daughter when the DNA information needed to catch the person three years ago was available but wasn't used.

Yes with every advance there is potential for both good and evil uses. Hopefully we can maximize the good and limit the evil.

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There are no rollbacks. 

There was vigorous debate in this country over the privacy rights of already convicted violent felons afa dna collection and keeping a database. 

But now, any price anyone has to pay* is assumed to be automatically worth it, to catch a small number of criminals.

While rape kits languish on shelves for upwards of a decade. 

Gee whiz, where could the about-face have originated? 

 

*By which I mean that any objection whatsoever is dismissed out of hand. Greater good, dontcha know.

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3 hours ago, KungFuPanda said:

Or if you want to avoid being denied health insurance because Great Aunt Bertha had diabetes. 

Dna won’t be what brings down the health care system.  

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2 hours ago, OKBud said:

There are no rollbacks. 

There was vigorous debate in this country over the privacy rights of already convicted violent felons afa dna collection and keeping a database. 

But now, any price anyone has to pay* is assumed to be automatically worth it, to catch a small number of criminals.

While rape kits languish on shelves for upwards of a decade. 

Gee whiz, where could the about-face have originated? 

 

*By which I mean that any objection whatsoever is dismissed out of hand. Greater good, dontcha know.

 

Yeah, I find the change in people's attitudes really a little shocking.  It's very "well, if you don't have anything to hide, why object if they ......"  So, sure, who cares about clearly finding a loophole to get around already existing laws.

And it's true, it is difficult to imagine this is really about solving crime.  

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Well, the city I grew up in had a police officer who worked with evidence plant false DNA for several years in order to "solve" crimes where there wasn't enough evidence to convict. Eventually, he was caught & convicted himself. I believe he considered himself a do-gooder.

Seeing what is going on in China right now with facial recognition, license plate tracking, and people being punished for their views or political sympathies makes me a bit apprehensive about what Big Brother will do with every bit of data out there.

I remember reading about how good video editing is getting. The top notch places can take your physical and voice likeness and make a real-looking video that is completely faked. The pros couldn't spot the fake--leading to fears of actual "fake news" in the next 5 or so years as prices come down for the tech or even better software becomes mainstream.

My tinfoil hat gets worn more and more often these days. I'm not fond of change & some of the discoveries and tech breakthroughs I read about make me wish for the good old 80s.

ETA: DNA evidence can be faked 

Edited by RootAnn
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6 hours ago, maize said:

We just need to make health coverage universal.

Personally I am happy if there is a tool that will catch folks like serial killers and rapists sooner. I'd be really upset if someone raped and killed my daughter when the DNA information needed to catch the person three years ago was available but wasn't used.

Yes with every advance there is potential for both good and evil uses. Hopefully we can maximize the good and limit the evil.

 

3 hours ago, Scarlett said:

Dna won’t be what brings down the health care system.  

Abysmal healthcare isn’t the point. People using your genetic information in ways you never authorized is. I completely understand why people do it and are interested, but I still feel that giving a private company control of your information (and paying them for the privilege) is short sighted. HIPAA privacy laws do not apply to these commercial dna testing companies. Their customers have no recourse, or even knowledge, if third parties use the information in seedy ways. They have no control if the company sells. Kids who aren’t even old enough to consent are having their DNA handed to these companies. 

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7 hours ago, KungFuPanda said:

 

Abysmal healthcare isn’t the point. People using your genetic information in ways you never authorized is. I completely understand why people do it and are interested, but I still feel that giving a private company control of your information (and paying them for the privilege) is short sighted. HIPAA privacy laws do not apply to these commercial dna testing companies. Their customers have no recourse, or even knowledge, if third parties use the information in seedy ways. They have no control if the company sells. Kids who aren’t even old enough to consent are having their DNA handed to these companies. 

 

Yes, and the thing is, it's not really just a private issue, it's a collective problem.  If my cousin decides to do it, it affects me.  If 60% of people decide to do it, it affects all of us.  It's not just a matter of individual freedoms when it equally impacts others, who no longer have the choice. This is exactly the reason we have regulation of this kind of thing.

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36 minutes ago, Bluegoat said:

 

Yes, and the thing is, it's not really just a private issue, it's a collective problem.  If my cousin decides to do it, it affects me.  If 60% of people decide to do it, it affects all of us.  It's not just a matter of individual freedoms when it equally impacts others, who no longer have the choice. This is exactly the reason we have regulation of this kind of thing.

 

How would you regulate it?

Forbid me from accessing information about my own DNA via testing? 

Forbid me from putting my own DNA information online?

Does a cousin who may share 12% of my DNA have higher standing than me in determining how my personal data may be made available?

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I'm not forbidden from broadcasting my family's address all over the internet if I want to even though that impacts everyone who lives here.

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5 hours ago, maize said:

 

How would you regulate it?

Forbid me from accessing information about my own DNA via testing? 

Forbid me from putting my own DNA information online?

Does a cousin who may share 12% of my DNA have higher standing than me in determining how my personal data may be made available?

 

I would think the way to go would probably be restrictions on the creation of databases holding the information, who can access the information, and so on.  

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5 hours ago, maize said:

I'm not forbidden from broadcasting my family's address all over the internet if I want to even though that impacts everyone who lives here.

Would it be WISE to do so? 

We can do a great many things. 

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5 minutes ago, OKBud said:

Would it be WISE to do so? 

We can do a great many things. 

 

Wise or not, should the government impose restrictions on me posting my own information?

Different people are going to have different opinions on what is reasonable or wise.

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In any case, presumably your immediate family has some influence over you.  THis is more like broadcasting your cousin's address. 

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19 minutes ago, Bluegoat said:

In any case, presumably your immediate family has some influence over you.  THis is more like broadcasting your cousin's address. 

And yet I'm allowed to do that as well. I'm not aware of any law that would prevent me from posting every address in my address book online.

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1 hour ago, Bluegoat said:

 

I would think the way to go would probably be restrictions on the creation of databases holding the information, who can access the information, and so on.  

I think restrictions on when and how law enforcement can access databases makes sense.

And I'd happily pass laws forbidding the selling of such information to insurance companies.

I'm pretty involved in genealogy so I'm all in favor of those databases.

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14 minutes ago, maize said:

And yet I'm allowed to do that as well. I'm not aware of any law that would prevent me from posting every address in my address book online.

 

I think we're getting a bit tangled in the metaphor here. ...and, ftr, there definitely ARE rules against posting anyone you want's address in sundry places in the US. As well as more nuanced rules detailing who can do it, where, and for what reasons. But this is exactly what we're talking about. It can be something we suss out, rather than a whole-sale-have-at-it, boys!

Clearly, again, we are allowed to do a great many things that are not necessarily wise. I would think it'd also clear that new technologies require new approaches, but evidently that's an unpopular opinion out in the world, if not here in this little corner. 

This country routinely engages in national conversations about privacy (I was told off on this forum once actually for defending the sex offender registry lol).

The intersections of law enforcement, healthcare, and privacy are very near to being completely unmanned right now. And once the cat gets loose, there's no calling it home. 

Any one person's personal curiosity about their family's DNA should not trump the privacy rights of others, no. That is a point on which we disagree. 

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57 minutes ago, OKBud said:

 

Any one person's personal curiosity about their family's DNA should not trump the privacy rights of others, no. That is a point on which we disagree. 

 

What would be your reasoning for prioritizing your right to privacy over my ownership and control over my personal information? 

It's hard to think of anything else really analogous to DNA because it is simultaneously very individual and very shared.

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5 hours ago, OKBud said:

 

I think we're getting a bit tangled in the metaphor here. ...and, ftr, there definitely ARE rules against posting anyone you want's address in sundry places in the US. As well as more nuanced rules detailing who can do it, where, and for what reasons. But this is exactly what we're talking about. It can be something we suss out, rather than a whole-sale-have-at-it, boys!

Clearly, again, we are allowed to do a great many things that are not necessarily wise. I would think it'd also clear that new technologies require new approaches, but evidently that's an unpopular opinion out in the world, if not here in this little corner. 

This country routinely engages in national conversations about privacy (I was told off on this forum once actually for defending the sex offender registry lol).

The intersections of law enforcement, healthcare, and privacy are very near to being completely unmanned right now. And once the cat gets loose, there's no calling it home. 

Any one person's personal curiosity about their family's DNA should not trump the privacy rights of others, no. That is a point on which we disagree. 

Regarding the first bolded, there are no laws restricting posting someone's address online. You cannot target someone for harassment but an address is public information.  The same applies to any other public records (ex. arrest records).  Various websites and social media platforms do have their own terms of service that may differ.

To the second bolded, while a relative's DNA is related to yours, legally it is not your DNA.  There is no valid legal reason for not allowing others to share their DNA for their own purposes.  It would be legally viable to restrict who may access that information or what they may use it for to some extent (ex. insurance companies as they already fall under federal and state privacy laws and regulations).  New laws would have to be passed re: law enforcement as information voluntarily provided has no expectation of privacy (and again, they cannot access your personal DNA without a court order).

I personally have no issue with law enforcement using a voluntarily provided DNA database to cross check DNA samples left at crime scenes.

 

 

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4 hours ago, maize said:

 

What would be your reasoning for prioritizing your right to privacy over my ownership and control over my personal information? 

It's hard to think of anything else really analogous to DNA because it is simultaneously very individual and very shared.

 

One of the best legal examples is a shared living space.  If you and I are on a lease together, you are able to give the police permission to search any common areas or areas under your personal control.  You generally do not have the right to give the police permission to search a personal space of mine (ex. my bedroom in a shared apartment).  There are some exceptions and if one of us is the owner of the space then the other has no right to grant permission for a search.

However, if you provide legal access to the shared living area and the police find something that give them additional probable cause (say they smell marijuana smoke coming from my bedroom or or I left a bedroom door open and they can see something illegal in plain view), that can give the police the right to either search or probable cause for a search warrant, depending upon the exact circumstances.

Shared DNA is similar to a shared legal space, and if it provides evidence for further investigation, the police must then proceed using the normal legal procedures with probable cause. 

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11 hours ago, maize said:

 

What would be your reasoning for prioritizing your right to privacy over my ownership and control over my personal information? 

It's hard to think of anything else really analogous to DNA because it is simultaneously very individual and very shared.

 

I am not saying anything whatsoever about anyone's right to their own personal information. 

Government entities, corporation's, stranger's, ex-husband's, etc right to it, otoh, IS what I'm talking about. 

The fact that people see criticizing governmental (etc) access to private medical information as an *attack* on their personal freedom, rather than a defense of it, is absolutely bizarre to me.

 

ETA, I _do_ want you to have ownership of your *personal* information. That's the point.

Edited by OKBud
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6 hours ago, ChocolateReignRemix said:

Shared DNA is similar to a shared legal space

 

It's more like anyone with Diabetes can allow the police (etc) to see the medical records of anyone else with diabetes. 

Or we could say it's like a distant relative you've never met can give permission for law enforcement to search the public and private areas of your home. Or for blood relative you want nothing to do with...

You can leave a lease and a house and any given set of roommates behind and never think of them again.

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4 hours ago, OKBud said:

 

It's more like anyone with Diabetes can allow the police (etc) to see the medical records of anyone else with diabetes. 

Or we could say it's like a distant relative you've never met can give permission for law enforcement to search the public and private areas of your home. Or for blood relative you want nothing to do with...

You can leave a lease and a house and any given set of roommates behind and never think of them again.

 

Terrible analogies as they are not remotely comparable. Again you are treating DNA as if it is completely individual and it is not.

 

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